Philip Meilke began his presentation by explaining how, as a qualified musician, he came to be in the railway industry. This cam about be taking a temporary summer job as a conductor and he has worked his way up to his present position since then. Before joining Cross Country, he was a franchise specification advisor at the Department for Transport.
Cross Country Trains operates the only franchise that extends to all corners of the UK, stretching from Aberdeen to Penzance and from South Wales to East Anglia, covering 1,654 route miles, serving 118 stations and operating 293 weekday services. The company currently carries some 30 million passengers annually and employs 1,200 staff. The longest service is the 0820 Aberdeen - Penzance service covering 774 miles.
The company is part of Arriva, which is itself owned by Deutsche Bahn. It Cross Country franchise was formed by merging the former Cross Country Franchise with some of the routes previously operated by Central Trains and in 2007 Arriva was announced as the successful bidder. Cross Country manages journeys as well as trains and some 40% of customers use a second train to complete their journeys. Most destinations on the network are just one change away.
Cross Country is aiming to provide more staff on trains to assist and advise customers and focussing on encouraging demand for travel to more closely match the available capacity. The company operates a mix of trains including Class 170 Turbostar, Class 220 Voyager, Class 221 Super Voyager and HST's with Mark 3 coaches. The HST's have 542 seats, more than a jumbo jet and this has helped to alleviate overcrowding. The Voyagers have refurbished to improve standards.
Fleet performance is on of the best on the rail network, but a major problem affecting reliability is that of cable theft, which has become more widespread with the rise in the price of scrap metals. The company is working towards providing the "right time railway" where trains must run on time. The rail network is a 7 day railway and engineering work tends to be done on Sundays, leading to service alterations. The company has been successful in having ground frames re-instated by Network Rail and increasing single line working to minimise disruption.
The company is keen to encourage travel through partnerships and aims to get more people onto empty trains. For example, working with the NEC in Birmingham or with Cheltenham Races to encourage people to travel to events by train. The company is also constantly refreshing it's "shop window" in other words it's website. It is important that intending passengers end up at the company's own website rather than some other rail ticket website.
To encourage people to look at the Cross Country website, it is important to make it as easy to navigate as possible and make it easy to find the best fares. It is also used to encourage travel by "exploration" and details of attractions easily reached by rail are available.The company has also introduced e-tickets and m-tickets which enable customers to download and print their own tickets or use their mobile phones. Tickets are validated by the train manager. Live train information is also available by mobile phone.
Looking at recent developments, Philip Meikle outlined the extension to Glasgow in May 2011 and the new direct Leeds to Glasgow service. Improvements to the Voyager fleet has resulted in improved reliability. Catering is being trialled on service to and from Glasgow and future expansion of this will depend on the outcome of the trial. The real challenge is snow and wind and trains need to be capable of operating in all weathers. Experience with adverse weather has led to further improvements in rolling stock.
For example, train horns have been repositioned to prevent them becoming blocked with snow as trains cannot operate at more than 20 mph if the horns do not work. Other improvements have been made to improve reliability and the company has worked with East Coast and Network rail to ensure that there is a robust contingency plan for the East Coast Main Line. Birmingham is the hub of the network and the audience were show how the new station will look, with brighter interiors, improved access and facilities. This will provide a modern gateway to Birmingham. The elimination of the existing complex junction at Reading will also result in improved reliability.
During the question and answer session, Philip was asked many diverse questions of Cross Country in particular and railways in general and all questions were answered with enthusiasm. The Chairman for the evening, Keith Evans, then presented Philip with a pair of the Scottish Region's engraved glasses as a momento of the evening and proposed the vote of thanks.
The Scottish Region would like to thank Glasgow City Council for hosting the event.
Report by John Fender.
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